Sawatdee! Welcome everyone to my groan-inducingly titled blog about my Thailand adventures. I have no idea how often I'll update this, probably less and less as time goes by, but at least I can give everyone a good idea what I'm up to here. Left from JFK mid-afternoon on Monday on a fun-tastic 14-hour flight to Hong Kong. This was not nearly as painstaking as my NZ flight was - partially because I've gotten used to it, and partially because it was a few hours shorter. Watched Fantastic Mr Fox, A Serious Man, and The Lovely Bones on the plane ride, which were all films I'd been meaning to see, so it helped the time go by.
Had a couple hours layover in Hong Kong, and then another 3 hours to Bangkok. Since we got in after midnight, the government-imposed curfew thats been going on since the protests ended was in effect, so it was a very quiet and strange trip to St Gabe's. The streets were vacant except for a few taxis and emergency vehicles, and it felt a bit like we were driving into a ghost town. Of course, during the day, Bangkok is absolutely insane, bustling with activity and traffic, but that wasn't our first impression.
Got back to the room, which is actually a quite spacious one-person with its own bathroom. We pay for our own utilities, so I'm trying to use the AC as little as possible, but this can get difficult as it has been 80's/90's/100's outside and super-humid. The last person left a nice standing fan though, so I may not have to use AC at all, which would save me some money.
Of course, everything is ridiculously cheap here. There are about 32 baht in a US dollar, and it is not unusual to get a meal for less than that. Everything I've bought so far has been super cheap in US dollars, but its the food that really makes the difference, because I love food and its normally one of my biggest expenses. We also get free lunch at the school, but if we want something else, we can literally just walk outside to the street and there are just lines and lines of street vendors selling a ton of different foods. There's also a 7/11 right down the street (although its stock of supplies and food is completely different) and a McDonalds across the street. The McDonalds is expensive though, so I'm going to hold off as long as I can. One word of advice from previous students was that you have to start thinking in baht and not in US dollars, because if you think in US currency you'll spend too much and waste all your money, so I have to keep that in mind.
Our first day at St Gabe's was spent mostly doing paperwork. We did take a tour of the school, though, and got to meet our co-teachers and other faculty/administration. They are very gracious to their American teachers and treat us well. One teacher saw our group as we were walking around and pulled us all into her classroom to introduce us to her class, even though none of us were teaching her students. The facilities are pretty insane, with several buildings chock-full with classrooms and gymnasiums. There seems to be a high importance placed on physical fitness here, with mini-gyms, soccer fields, basketballs courts, swimming pools, etc. all over the place. It's also pretty massive for a primary school, but there are about 5500 kids from grades 1-12 (or Primary 1-6 and Montiem 1-6) so its a little different than my primary education. I got my schedule and it had me teaching 22 classes a week, 1st and 2nd grade social studies. When I asked Miss Pat (the foreign teacher coordinator) what exactly 1st grade social studies was, she strongly encouraged me to switch with another American teacher who had arrived two weeks earlier (not through Loyola) who got placed in math unwillingly. So we switched and now I'm a 6th grade math teacher! Time to hone up on my algebra. I'm only teaching 14 classes a week now, which is much less intense, but Miss Pat told me she would have extra work for me in my free time. I still have only briefly met my co-teacher, who is the head of mathematics and supposedly real awesome. We were supposed to sit in classes today, but we spent the morning setting up our Thai bank accounts, so we didn't start until after lunch, and I only teach morning classes.
As far as street life goes, perhaps the biggest difference I have noticed so far may be sanitation and public health. There is trash absolutely everywhere outside, people throw it out wherever, even the pretty canals through the city are grossly littered. There are cockroaches and rats on the streets, as well as tons and tons of stray dogs and cats, which just seem to bum around the town like Baltimore's homeless and crackheads, only they don't bother anyone, they just chill out and do their own thing. Everyone is extremely friendly though, and if you happen to know any Thai at all they will be super impressed and excited that youve already taken more effort to know their culture than the average tourist. They also highly respect teachers, under royalty and clergy, so if we are dressed up or show our School ID they will treat us with much respect.
Tomorrow (Friday) is a super important Buddhist holiday, so we have a three day weekend. Don't know how we're going to spend that time, but someone suggested traveling down to Ko Samet, which is one of Thailand's southern islands with beautiful beaches and sweet tourist activities. Then next week, I should start sitting in on classes and eventually begin to co-teach. Stay tuned!